Symbolism of The Raft
Research papers on the symbolism of the raft in the novel Huckleberry Finn will examine how the raft serves as a symbol for many aspects of physical and psychological factors within the novel. The following are some common symbols of the raft:
- A bonding element between Huck and Jim
- A psychological symbol of freedom for Jim
- A symbol of loyalty for Jim
Mark Twain, having worked the Mississippi River in his younger days on a steamboat, was intimately familiar with watercraft in Huckleberry Finn. It is not surprising, then, that he chose a raft as a focal point and also a symbol in the attempts to free Jim and whisk him northward, to Illinois, which was not a slave state.
The raft is more than a crude vessel; it is also a physical and psychological entity. In the physical element, the raft becomes the place where Jim and Huck begin to bond, and where Huck first realizes that Jim is more than a slave; he is a loving human being. When the two lose the raft (as in Chapter 12), they both band together to locate it again. It is not only their physical means to get Jim to safety, but also the psychological symbol of freedom.
Twain skillfully tweaks the reader by having the raft break loose or be rammed by another vessel (Chapter 16). It also becomes the device by which the phony Duke and Dauphin con their way aboard, playing on Huck's naïve nature. In another way, the raft becomes a symbol of loyalty, for in Chapter 31 Jim stays with the raft when Huck and the Duke go searching for the Dauphin. This costs Jim his freedom once again, as he is captured and sold once again into slavery.
The raft is also a kind of anchor or foundation in the novel, for it becomes the focal point for both adventure and the bonding that develops between Jim and Huck. It is, therefore, not simply a physical object, a means of transportation, but rather a kind of symbolic meeting place where human understanding and kindness come to fruition.
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